Scientists studying the wolf population on Isle Royale were told of a grisly discovery in late May that could explain the reason for a dwindling number of wolves on the island.
An alpha male, another male and a female were found dead in a mine shaft on the large Lake Superior island by National Park Service staff.
In a winter study released in March, biologist John Vucetich and ecologist Rolf Peterson from Michigan Technological University reported that they thought Isle Royale’s gray wolf population faced extinction because only nine of them remained. It was a mystery as to why they were dying off.
He believes the wolves fell into the water-filled shaft sometime early in the winter, before his team arrived in January for its annual seven-week study.
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The loss of the alpha male left the pack in shambles. This is a sad story not only about the trials of maintaining a fragile species but also the dangers of mine shafts. This mine shaft was created in the mid-1800’s. Due to this incident, it may be filled. (Hope so!) The small positive side is that the mystery is solved and it was not the result of poison or additional diseases that had plagued the pack. In the 1980s, a contagious virus decimated the population from 50 to 12.
“Random events often play a large role in isolated island populations,” a park official said. “Information from this event will serve to help us evaluate future management.” Park officials and scientists have been debating whether they should interfere by adding wolves from the mainland to the pack or let it die off and start anew.